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Couple Therapy Session

When Your Narrative Hurts Your Relationship

Dr. Sandra A. Shachar, PHD
We all do it - create a narrative in our heads. It happens something like this: Your partner is later arriving home from work than promised. If this is a rare occurrence, you ask when they walk in, “Is everything okay? I was getting worried about you!” However, if it happens frequently, even after we have expressed our displeasure with this to them, we begin to create an Internal narrative to explain why it keeps happening. We say things to ourselves like,

“You think that what you are doing is more important than what I have going on - what I feel doesn’t matter to you! If it did, you wouldn’t keep doing things like this that upset me!” As you think this, you begin to feel more upset, hurt and angry. You may hold your thoughts and feelings in, or they may come out in irritation about other things.
When your internal narrative is allowed to take root, without discussing it with your partner, it becomes a “fact” in your mind and an operating principal for your interactions with your partner. You may begin to act with less care and regard for you partner’s feelings since you are convinced they don’t care about yours. Eventually your disregard may be noticed by your partner and then you have the choice to acknowledge that “yes, something IS wrong!” This choice allows you to disclose your narrative to you partner, who can then correct any misunderstanding, if indeed they do care and hadn’t realized you felt disregarded. Or you may choose to be silent, say “No, nothing is wrong,” or make up a reason for your irritation. These choices keep your narrative intact, perhaps with the addition of the thought that “if you cared, you’d know what’s wrong!”
When internal narratives are not exposed to the light of day and examined for supporting data, they will gain strength by letting us file all subsequent partner behavior under the narrative theme, which in this example is “you don’t care!”
Couples counseling can help partners identify their Internal narratives and modify them with information shared by their partner, such as, “You have been worried about our finances and focused on getting a raise, so you’ve tried to take on more responsibility at work.” When we have information that corrects our self-created “explanation “ of their behavior, we can have an honest conversation about our thoughts and feelings that will create understanding and deepen intimacy.